To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?

My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.

However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.

Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…

Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….

‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’

For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.  

The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.

Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…

(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry).  So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”

(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”

If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.

What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?

Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?

Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’

Comments more than welcome…


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3 thoughts on “To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?”

  1. Personally, I see nothing wrong with this. Nowadays,, speaking as an 18 year old, I think that older generations do not really understand how often we are actually exposed to sexually explicit material. I believe that the media over reacts to sexual images, showing that the bourgeois are taking something that we enjoy and turning it into a negative. By looking at the website, it is clear to see that the programme is very much aimed AT women FOR women, as there are no men present when the classes are on. In their ‘mission statement’, they even state they, Learn a ‘new sport, gain confidence and look better than ever.’ in no part does it state that it is used to train pornstars or glorify the sex industry. Surely if women felt like they would be objectified, they wouldn’t go to the classes and they wouldn’t exist. The classes are supposed to be a bit of fun, letting your hair down and exploring new ways to tone up, FOR THEIR OWN personal gain.

  2. Some interesting points are made on both sides, however nothing has changed my mind that pole ‘fitness’ is too closely linked with sex. As the previous comment made, students are surrounded by explicit material in the newspapers, tv etc but why does this make it ok for the college to promote? If a male teacher suggested a 16 year old student should take pole dancing classes concerns would be voiced. If they were a vulnerable student it could become a safeguarding issue if not more. So would it be ok for a female teacher to promote? My answer is no. I would not promote lap dancing as it is good for the thighs and I put these in to the same category. Within the website it is expressed that ‘no men would be present’, this shouldn’t be a good thing. Straight away it is saying if a male was present it would become sexual. Someone has been clever in making some women believe it is empowering but how is it so when only women can be involved. I don’t find anything women have to do away from the male gaze is empowering, I believe in equality but still I have nothing against informed, adult woman making choices. They will perform the classes with an awareness that 16 years still need to develop. Maybe if it was called ‘gym bar fitness’ with connections to gymnastics it would be more appropriate, even if the results were the same. Sometimes it’s just in the name.
    ‘Nilla’ made some good arguments however, working in a low paid job, with a clear hierarchy structure of work force with equal male and female staff is not the same as young women dancing provocatively to excite older men. Taking your clothes of is degrading; working below minimum wage with nasty costumers is a different social issue. Taking the activity and reclaiming it does have some positive elements, moving the enjoyment from male to female however again maybe issues for outside college life.

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